Lessons In Boston and Beyond

I ran today for the first time since tearing my calf muscle in the Boston Marathon almost three and a half weeks ago.  I felt an incredible sense of joy and freedom in my run this morning.  This morning’s run was in stark contrast to the last time I ran.  It was just me, the outdoors, my iPod and God.

Boston was filled with fanfare, cheering crowds, high expectations and what was supposed to be a great run with friends as we made the 26.2 mile journey from Hopkinton to Boston.  That wasn’t to be for me on that day.  Almost right away I knew something was not right with my calf.  Truth be told, I knew it in the week leading up to the race but denied it.  I wanted to believe I could do marginal things to take care of myself and make it work.  Within the first quarter mile I knew it was going to be a long day.  My calf was tight and after I had gone the first mile it just wouldn’t loosen up.  Gone already, I knew, was the plan of running and enjoying the day with friends.

Then it happened.  At right around the third mile it felt like someone ran up behind me and stabbed me with a knife in the back of the leg.  I pulled up immediately and initially couldn’t put much weight on it.  There were countless spectators encouraging me to walk it off.  “You can do it buddy!” they yelled.  My immediate thought was, “Are you kidding me?  I have 23 miles to go!”  I was angry and frustrated!  Soon, my trepidatious hobble became a walk and then I got impatient – It didn’t take long.  I began to run again.  By mile five my average pace was over 12 minutes per mile.  I didn’t have my iPod so there was no music to help distract the crazy thoughts that flowed through my head.  My friends were far ahead by now and I was left with the thousands upon thousands of cheering spectators and those thoughts that seemed to number in the thousands as well.

I settled in to, as some say, “Embrace the suck!”  It was going to be a much longer day than I had planned on but this was Boston!  Each and every step that day hurt.  If I didn’t focus and stepped wrong it hurt more.  After a while though, something happened.  I’m not sure how to explain it or how it was happening but by the halfway point I was turning out sub nine minute miles.  It certainly wasn’t graceful but I was moving.

Grinding through Boston

Grinding through Boston

To convey all the thoughts that went through my head that day would be next to impossible.  I was wearing one of my MS Run the US Relay shirts that day.  Much of my motivation to keep going was knowing that the pain I was experiencing that day; the disappointment I felt that day; the thwarted plans for the day, paled in comparison to the millions of people suffering from MS on a daily basis.  I knew at the end of the race or soon after that I would find relief.  People suffering from MS, as well as many other chronic diseases, never find relief.  They never get a break!  It’s not temporary!  It doesn’t go away!  Unlike me, they don’t have a choice.  I could have stopped at any one of the medical tents along the way and ended the temporary pain.  That is not the case for them.  They get up every day and face their day courageously, not because that is what they want to do, but because they have to.

I heard hundreds, actually probably thousands, of people cheering for MS.  All along the way people were yelling to stop MS!  I often wondered, with my altered running form that day, if people thought I had MS?  It didn’t matter.  I was proud to be out there and helping to raise awareness.  Awareness is the key to helping us beat the disease!  Those cheers and thinking about all the people I know with the disease kept me going.  In my own suffering, knowledge of their everyday fight was amplified.  It pisses me off that they don’t get a day off from the disease!  I knew I had to keep going!  I had to finish!  I just had to!

Through my stubborn determination to finish and try to help others by raising awareness I was also blessed with some incredible reminders in the form of lessons that day.  Some I realized immediately that day and some have begun to reveal themselves in the weeks since.  The injury forced me to slow down and realize I needed to take a “life inventory” and perhaps make some adjustments.  I quite possibly would have missed that had the day in Boston played out differently.  Because of the lessons I’ve learned I’m thankful it didn’t.  Here are some of the loudest reminders – so far.

You Can’t Outrun Denial

I knew I had issues with my calf going into the race that day.  I attempted to convince myself that everything was OK and I’d be just fine.  The problem was, I knew everything wasn’t fine but chose to ignore it.  That certainly is a reflection of life at times.  We believe we can choose to ignore issues or problems in our life and that they will go away.  If we pretend they aren’t real then they don’t exist, right?

My experience in Boston that day certainly reminded me of how wrong that thought process is.  Denying what is directly in front of you may often seem easier than addressing the issue.  Taking no action at all can appear to be the easier path to travel.  Frequently though, if not always, it leads to more difficulty.  Why? It’s because we are too afraid and cowardly to address the issue directly in front of us.  We’d rather avoid something that may be difficult so we can placate our temporary comfort in the moment.  Unfortunately, that approach doesn’t often serve us well and quite often causes more pain and frustration in the long run.  We end up even more uncomfortable.

Finishing at Boston!

Finishing at Boston!

Joy Needs to Be Recognized

Another incredible outcome from that day was a greater appreciation for joy!  If I’m being honest about it, this is something I struggle with.  I believe it has a lot to do with not living as I should in the moment.  As I look back on that day, I realize this is something I need to really put some focus on.  I have had several reminders since race day and for that I am thankful.  I need those reminders often and am trying to become more intentional in my actions; to live more in the moment and enjoy it for what it is.  Life is too short to live with regret.  This became incredibly clear to me as I looked at countless pictures from that day and the pure joy and smiles that were on many of the faces.  To my friends who blessed me with your joy – Thank you!  You have no idea how much those images have meant to me in recent weeks.  I’m sure you know who you are but if you are wondering just look at the pictures – it’s obvious!

There’s a Fine Line Between Selfishness and Selflessness

It’s been a long few weeks since Boston.  At times I’ve worried if I had been too focused on my own selfish desire to finish for the benefit of self-induced glory.  Did that selfishness screw up the bigger picture for this year which is to successfully complete my segment in the MS Run the US Relay?  I was so focused that day on my own desires that I temporary forgot about the bigger picture.  That selfishness also had me concerned that I was letting the people in my life down by not going fast enough and possibly not even finishing.  I am beginning to realize how wrong that was.  It doesn’t matter how fast I go or, in the case of races, if I even finish.  I found out later that many, as they tracked my progress, couldn’t figure out what was going on and were worried.  I could have alleviated all of that if I would have just stopped and let them know I was hurting, but was fine.

I’m realizing now that sometimes there is more honor in stepping back, re-evaluating and then moving forward in a prudent and thoughtful manner.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have spontaneity in our life but there is a time and place for it.  It’s a balance and each person just needs to figure that balance out.

I honestly was nervous as I set out this morning on my first run since Boston.  I wasn’t sure what was going to happen.  I didn’t know if my leg was ready for the stress of running.  I almost made the choice not to go.  If I didn’t attempt to run I was sure my calf would continue to feel fine.  That would have been sad and disappointing.  All the lessons and reminders I was presented with over recent weeks would have meant nothing.  I would have ignored all the great things this experience had revealed.  I needed to trust everything would be alright – yet another lesson in this process.

And so, this morning, I ran.  It was just me, the outdoors, my iPod and God.  And for that, I am thankful.

Be Great!  Be Strong! Be Determined!


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